Friday, July 05, 2013

The Famous Five Go Consorting

It must be consortium week. There we were, waiting an age for a consortium to turn up, and two of them appear on successive days; yesterday the consortium for building tourism things and knocking others down and today a consortium for a group of towns. This consortium is the first such consortium in Mallorca, and what it involves is five town halls getting together in order to make cost savings and to try and avoid losing responsibilities envisaged under national reform of local government. The famous for now five are Artà, Manacor, Sant Llorenç, Santa Margalida and Son Servera; famous for now in being the first such consortium, but there could be more consortiums while the five could grow its number. 

While cost savings and rationalisation of resources and services are the efficiencies to be gained from this consortium, there is also an element of municipal self-interest. The five towns together will constitute an entity of some 80,000 inhabitants. Under the government's reforms, towns with fewer than 20,000 people will lose some of its responsibilities. They will be assumed by a higher authority: the Council of Mallorca in Mallorca's case. But, and one presumes this to be so, lump towns together and their combined populations take them well over the responsibility-losing threshold.

Four of the towns in this consortium would face this prospect, but one, Manacor, wouldn't. It is by far the largest of the five towns, representing over half that 80,000. Which begs a question as to what benefit it might derive from the arrangement and a further one as to whether it might not just dominate the other four. Manacor may be able to extract some savings of its own, but when one analyses these five towns, there are some political similarities. One is that none of them are run by the Partido Popular. Manacor was before its mayor Antoni Pastor had his big falling-out with President Bauzá, but it is now a town hall of a coalition, independents, liberals and what have you.

Manacor has become one of the island's awkward-squad town halls. Another is Santa Margalida. It and Manacor share one thing very much in common: a dislike of Bauzá. Of the three other towns, they also share a thing in common: the train that won't now be running between Manacor and Artà because the PP regional government won't facilitate its funding. So politically as well as geographically, there is some connection between the five.

This, though, raises a further question. There may exist some political harmony between the towns at present, but what about the future? There is a fair bit of the unknown about this consortium venture, not just because political complexions could change in any of the towns at the next elections in 2015 but also because the number of councillors will be radically reduced at those elections (another aspect of the local government reforms).

While responsibilities might be shared, the towns would still have their own mayors and whatever number of councillors they will be permitted to have from 2015. The potential for disagreements would seem to be great, and there must be the possibility that Manacor, because it is so much bigger than the others, pushes the other towns around. To make this consortium work is going to demand considerable diplomacy and probable compromise, neither of which is usually to be found in great abundance in Mallorcan local government and especially not at town levels where inter-town rivalries, the old-boys and family networks and pure parochialism create obstacles to harmonious relationships. Town halls can descend into dysfunctional chaos as it is because no one can get on with each other (one only has to think of Pollensa); put them together in the form of a consortium and God knows what trouble might be in store.

Of course, it might work but it might also become like the European Union - adding ever more members until it becomes unworkable. This particular consortium will surely attract the interest of Capdepera at some stage. It would in fact be interesting to know why it isn't in from the outset, given that it is hemmed in by two of the towns and that it also isn't PP-run. And if Capdepera, which other towns? Petra? Maria de la Salut? Muro? Felanitx?

Ultimately, won't such a consortium need to have one body to run it? Would this not be a logical outcome and so bring about an actual merger of towns? There certainly are unknowns about this venture, but it might just represent the beginning of a process of truly radical reform of Mallorcan local government.

Any comments to please.

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